By applying a model commonly used to describe personality traits in people, researchers in South Australia and New Zealand have identified five distinct personality traits in cats. It is hoped that a better understanding of feline personalities can enhance the health and welfare of cats by fine-tuning management approaches to suit individual temperaments.
Published in the online journal PLOS One, the study details the findings of researchers whose aim was to determine the number of reliable factors depicting personalities in pet cats. Previously, most behavioral studies have been conducted in laboratories, animal shelters or feral cat colonies.
According to the researchers, “This gap in knowledge is problematic since the typical environment for domestic cats is arguably the home, with tens of millions of pet cats, some kept exclusively indoors. Cat owners, veterinarians, animal behaviorists and scientists often focus on the behavioral problems of stressed cats rather than on the behavior of psychologically healthy cats and their inter- and intra-species interactions.
“Development of an accurate standardized ethogram (inventory of species-specific behaviors) for pet cats would facilitate creation of standards for optimal housing and welfare.”
The study utilized a model used in human personality research known as the Five-Factor Model (or the Big Five), which uses common language to describe personality. It is believed that human personality can be described by five broad factors: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Each factor is made up of several correlated and specific factors. For instance, extraversion includes the related qualities of gregariousness, warmth and assertiveness.
The personalities of 2,802 pet cats from South Australia and New Zealand were rated by their owners, using a survey measuring 52 personality traits. According to researchers, it is the first study to use such a large sample, and it builds on previous research to fill in a number of methodological gaps.
Analysis of the responses provided by cat owners suggests that there are five reliable factors that describe domestic cat personality: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsiveness and agreeableness. Researchers now call these personality factors the Feline Five.
According to the study, neuroticism defined by the traits of insecurity, anxiousness, fearfulness of people, suspiciousness and shyness. Extraversion traits include being active, vigilant, curious, inquisitive, inventive and smart. Dominance includes bullying along with the characteristics of dominance and aggressiveness toward other cats. Impulsiveness traits include erraticism and recklessness. Agreeableness traits include affectionateness, friendliness to people and gentleness.
The personality of an individual cat is determined by where the animal lives along each factor’s continuum, between low and high scores.
The research team believes the Feline Five has the potential to improve the quality of life of individual pet cats through personalized management strategies.
“Highly Impulsive cats for example, may be reacting to something stressful in their environment, whereas low Agreeableness scores, showing irritability, may indicate underlying pain or illness.
“Thus, the need for a systematic and holistic approach to personality that includes both the individual pet cat and its environment is recommended, and opens the door to future interdisciplinary intervention,” wrote researchers. — Catnip staff